“I hate Christmas,” I grumble, stomping through the common room and pulling a piece of red tinsel from the walls. “What the hell is this? We’re Slytherins! We don’t DO Christmas cheer! Especially not when it comes in Gryffindor colours!”
“Like you have anything to complain about,” Scorpius mutters, pulling down some golden tinsel. “I see what you mean about the Gryffindor colours. I asked Mum if I could be the prefect-in-charge over the holidays—Didn’t stand a chance, of course.”
“Yeah, it would help if you were a real prefect and not just Quidditch captain.”
“We’re still allowed to be prefects-in-charge over Christmas. But no, Jem got in first.”
“Damn,” I comment. “Would have been nice to have some authority again—not that Astoria would leave me in charge, she thinks I’m the devil incarnate.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. Just corrupting me into betraying my whole family. Like I said, Christmas is gonna be fun.”
“Bout as fun as mine, our house has a fifty percent chance of being broken into by Dark wizards and my family being murdered.”
“Your mum would let you come home with that threat?”
“Yeah. Her exact words: ‘If we die, we die together.’ She’s gone fucking mental.”
“We knew that a long time ago,” he says with a grin, and I punch him on the arm. “Oh, shitballs. Voice of Reason comes out today.”
“What can it say that it hasn’t already said?” I ask.
He contemplatively tosses a wad of tinsel at the wall. “Heard Mum sending off a thousand Patronus messages—”
“She knows how to do that?”
“Oh please. She’s not Charms professor for nothing. It was after the Prophet came out, she’s been in the Auror Office’s back pocket…”
“Don’t tell me.”
“The Muggle cult strikes again,” he mutters. “So there’ll be rioting in the Great Hall in approximately ten minutes.”
We hear the beginnings of mutiny long before we get near the Great Hall, and around us students break into a run at the sound of the uproar. Scorpius and I exchange glances and bolt towards the hall, where the noise swells to a crescendo. It’s pandemonium in the Hall; students have leapt up onto tables shouting, copies of The Voice of Reason are being hurled everywhere, as I watch Riordan and Antigone clamber onto a table, joined almost immediately by a number of DOWIAH members; they’re shouting something and slowly but surely hundreds of students take up the chant: “Muggles Are Murderers! Muggles Are Murderers! Muggles Are Murderers!”
“This is going to be bad,” I mutter with rising trepidation.
“Enough is enough!” Antigone shouts, waving her arms for silence. “It’s time for ACTION! Who’s with me?”
Seeing red, I stride towards the table; she’s going to make things worse, stirring people up; there are a thousand students in this hall and a stampede or a riot could be fatal—
The crowd screams in agreement and surges forward.
“No!” I shout, but Antigone’s waving her hands, pumping her fist, shouting something.
“Get out of the crowd, Rose, you’ll get crushed!” Scorpius yells at me.
I raise my wand.
“Stupefy!” I bellow, and a jet of red light hits Antigone full on; I watch as she falls, first to the table and then to the stone floor behind it. “Impendimenta!” at Riordan and he stumbles, and hundreds of faces turn to me.
“Rose!” Scorpius yells, panicked, and time seems to stand still as the crowd surges towards me.
“Impendimenta!” I cry desperately, and a panic floods through me as the students hit by my spell stumble and fall in front of the rest of the crowd. “Scorpius, help me!”
“Accio broom!” he shouts, and I wheel around. “Moneo extremus!” I yell, firing the spell at the Hogwarts crest high above the points hourglasses; instantly a loud klaxon blares throughout the castle.
“We’re going to the Ministry!” someone screams from the middle of the crowd, and they surge forward once again. Scorpius leaps onto the broom he summoned, dragging students from under the feet of the crowd and flying out of the hall.
“Someone’s going to get killed!” I yell, desperately trying to calm the crowd.
“Someone already has!” a voice calls. “By Muggles!”
A deafening roar comes from this statement and four hundred students push forward once again. This time I’m swept into the crowd, fighting and gasping to stay on my feet.
“Your mum’s going to kill us all!”
“She’s destroying us!”
“We’re not interested in your shit!”
Panic rises like bile in my throat as I’m carried further into the heart of the crowd; I’m being crushed, I can’t breathe, I pray that the teachers will come soon but even then I don’t know what they could do…
The crowd rears back suddenly; a barrage of curses has just hit the outer edges and the atmosphere turns to panic; I’m thrown to the ground and roll instantly into a ball, casting a Shield Charm around myself and watching in horror as the crowd turns into a stampede; curses fly everywhere and my heart nearly stops when I see a flash of green.
No, I tell myself. No, this is Hogwarts, that would never happen, oh God…
Hermione and Ron Weasley stood as one to face the barrage of reporters crowded into the Entrance Hall at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Great Hall now lay silent and dozens of sombre photos had been taken of the scene of the tragedy. Now the cameras flashed over and over again, capturing the tears on the Minister’s face and the haunted look on her husband’s.
Ignoring the shouted questions, Hermione raised her head to meet the crowd, and her eyes blazed with burning passion.
“We are treating the murder of our son Hugo as an act of war.”
“Lily!” I hear Natalia’s voice carrying clearly from outside the portrait hole. “Lily Potter!”
“Who’s that?” Roxy asks.
“Friend of mine,” I reply briefly, making my excuses to the group and hurrying down the stairs.
“What’s up?” I ask through the portrait hole.
“Something that we won’t discuss here,” she replies briefly. “Now get your arse out here before I blow the portrait to pieces.”
“Excuuuuuse me!” the Fat Lady protests.
I clamber out of the hole, meeting Natalia, Damascus and Emily outside. “You’re getting Lorcan,” Damascus says. “We’ll meet you outside the Room of Requirement. Don’t be any more than eight minutes.”
They hurry off, leaving me slightly confused as to what’s going on. The school seems quieter somehow as I cross the castle towards Ravenclaw Tower; there are few students around, and the ones I do see are striding past with their eyes fixed on the ground, or walking in silent groups. The incident in the Great Hall this morning left everyone shaken, and I myself am struggling to comprehend how the situation escalated so quickly.
“What came first, the chicken or the egg?” the bronze knocker asks me.
“That can only be answered by people present at the beginning of time.”
“A fair point,” the knocker concedes, and the door swings open. I hurry up the stairs, hesitating in the doorway of the common room. There must be seventy students in there, but it’s dead silent.
Hugo. Of course.
I scan the room for Lorcan, spotting him leaning against a far wall. I catch his eye and he quickly crosses the room, pulling me halfway down the stairs before speaking.
I shrug. “We’re meeting the Slytherins in the Room of Requirement in about four minutes.”
“Right. Any idea what it’s about?”
“Judging by the exact time frame Damascus gave me, I’m thinking we’re going to Headquarters again, or at least taking a Portkey to somewhere.” I usher him quickly though the door and we set off for the Room of Requirement at a brisk pace. “What the hell happened this morning?”
“Don’t remind me about this morning,” Lorcan says swiftly. “All I know is that seventeen kids are at St Mungos, thirty-three are in the hospital wing, and Hugo Weasley’s dead.”
“I hope you don’t mind my calling an emergency meeting,” Medea begins, sauntering to the front of the room and idly tapping her wand on her palm, “But I thought it was necessary.”
“Without a doubt,” Octavian agrees.
“As you may be aware,” she continues, “Minister of Magic Hermione Weasley declared the murder of her son Hugo this morning as an act of war. We are at war, ladies and gentlemen, and we have been asked by DOWIAH’s leaders to form the elite segment of the army. Along with this, we will continue our…underground crusade. Seeing as the name of Honour Guard will now be known to the wizarding world, we need a way to differentiate between activities. Therefore, what we have been doing up until now will continue, under the codename Operation Crusade. Everything else will be standard Honour Guard procedure.”
“Will the members of the Guard be known?” Cadmus Lestrange asks.
“I will be the spokesperson, should the need arise,” Medea says smoothly. “For the rest of you, your identities will remain secret. You may wish to formally join DOWIAH, you may wish to remain unaffiliated. What you do with your lives is your business. But when you are needed, I will contact you, and we will meet here by Portkeys arranged by myself. There is already an anti-Apparition charm on the building and surrounds, as well as a Fidelius Charm. You are all Secret Keepers, and, in order to safeguard the integrity of our location, Octavian will spend the next hour teaching Occlumency to all those who are unaccomplished at it. Which, I imagine, is our students, excluding Emily.”
“Occlumency means blocking your own thoughts, your own emotions from invasion,” Octavian begins. “It is one of the most advanced forms of magic in the world and if you are not up to the challenge you are out of the Honour Guard, am I clear?”
“Yes,” Natalia says, speaking for all of us.
“Step forward, Natalia. When I cast the spell for Legilimency, you must allow your mind to go blank. You must envisage an empty blackness, you must focus on that blackness with all your strength. Are you ready?”
Natalia gives a determined nod.
“Legilimens!” Octavian calls, and Natalia stiffens.
“Got anything to hide?” Lorcan asks me in a low voice.
“Not from them,” I reply.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, there’s plenty I’d hide from my parents.”
“Ever planning on telling them?”
“Yeah, come home for Christmas, ‘Hey, Lily, what have you been up to at Hogwarts?’ ‘Oh, nothing much, just joined a secret group of Dark wizards, turkey smells good.’”
“Going to tell them you’re not part of Unity?”
“Hopefully, they won’t ask. If they do, I’ll just say I’m part of DOWIAH, they can suck it up, James joined two weeks ago. You?”
“Knowing Mum, she’ll just smile, say ‘that’s nice, it’s good that you can think for yourself’ and space out again. I’m not anticipating any problems.”
“Lily!” Octavian barks, and I turn my attention to him. “Legilimens!”
Immediately my mind starts racing again, but I know what to expect; I have nothing to hide, and as my initial panic subsides I focus on emptying my mind, concentrating on a dark, empty nothing. Block, block, block, I tell myself, and gradually the darkness takes over, the memories and thoughts fading until I’m no longer aware of them.
“That’s enough,” Octavian says at length, lowering his wand. “Very basic, but sufficient for now.”
“Did you manage it?” Lorcan whispers as I pass.
“Yeah. It’s tricky though.”
It’s not till I go and sit down beside Natalia that I realise something.
Dad never mastered Occlumency. He was taught for months by the best Occlumens the wizarding world had ever seen, Severus Snape, but he never mastered it. And he’s the Chosen One who defeated Lord Voldemort, Head of the Auror Office, the famous Harry Potter.
And I can do something he can’t. Maybe only in one way, but I’m more powerful than my father.